Skip to Content
Podcasts Back

PODCAST – What Businesses Need to Do to Shore Up Their Finances and People During the Pandemic

| October 29, 2020

 

This episode features one of the best business operations specialists around. Andrea is the founder of Dunathan Consulting and she works with businesses of all sizes from global corporations to small non-profits. Her focus is working with business owners to grow their business, to improve processes and to maximize the value of the company. Tune into this podcast to learn more about what your business can be doing right now to improve its profit margins, despite the challenges you might be facing during this COVID-19 pandemic. Feel free to connect with Andrea via LinkedIn | Facebook | Website

Unknown: 

Welcome to trials and tribulations at work, the podcast where we talk about everything related to the workplace. Join us as we interview leading experts to discuss a variety of workplace related issues to help you learn about your rights, as well as how to succeed professionally, personally and financially in the workplace. And here’s your host, Jay Stafford, founder of the law firm of jw Stafford

Jamaal Stafford: 

Welcome to the show. Today we’re going to speak with Andrea donathan. She helps rapidly growing businesses make the best use of their people processes and technology to support the business’s growth and an increase its future sales value. Since she founded Dennison consulting in 2004. She has worked with a wide variety of clients, from global corporations to tiny nonprofits, to improve their internal operations, and free up the owner and their staff to do their best work. Her client focus is business owners who want more time to focus on growing their business. Andrea is a big believer in providing practical help to her clients her goals to find the simplest, most effective solutions that meet her customers needs. And to get them implemented, allowing her customers to focus on the things that they do best. Andrea, it’s so great to have you on today. We met several years ago through a mutual connection. And when we met, I remember you asking me questions about sort of the internal operations of my law firm. And you really challenged me to look at how we run our business. tell our listeners what you do.

Andrea Dunathan: 

So Jay, thank you so much for having me on. I’m really excited to be here of Yeah, it was great when we met, we’ve been in touch for several years now talking about running our businesses. And you know, that’s exactly what I do. I work with business owners to improve their business operations generally work with fast growing companies like yours, to get their people processes and systems running like clockwork, that really frees up the business owner to focus on growing your business. And, you know, it also reduces expenses, increases capacity to handle more customers. And that leads to higher net profit, which is you know why we’re in business. So

Jamaal Stafford: 

tell us what got you started in this field.

Andrea Dunathan: 

You know, the last job I had before I went out on my own 15 years ago was as a county budget analyst, and we did a lot of like internal consulting is what I would call it the county departments at that time, we’re getting less and less money from the feds in the state. So they had to do more to deal with more community need, with less and less money every year. So it was a natural training to figure out how to streamline how to improve operations. And it was very motivational because it was serving the community. So when I left that job and went out on my own, I wanted to help organizations really use their people and other research, they had to the very best potential to make the most of what they had, and really have things running smoothly. I love it when all the parts work well together. You know, things are just, you know, you can count on it, it’s reliable, and you can focus on where you really should be focusing.

Jamaal Stafford: 

We know right now we’re going through a pandemic. So, you know, tell us, from your perspective, what are the biggest challenges you’re seeing in the businesses you work with right now?

Andrea Dunathan: 

Well, you know, there’s several, there’s the obvious ones, right? Like the businesses a guy completely shut down, those are obvious, the restaurants, the caterers, you know, I just talked to a caterer is going out of business, there were those the ones that are able to stay open or reopen, but there’s a lot more costs in terms of trying to keep your chef and your customer safe. So that’s a big issue. But one issue that I think a lot of customers don’t see, but the business owners are may be very aware of is, you know, we’re a business used to be fast growing, and they had a lot of business coming in, they could afford to be a little bit sloppy about their operations. And now in this time, they have to really fine tune things. Profit margins are shrinking very quickly, and you just can’t be sloppy, you can’t afford to let a press prospective customer drop off, you have to follow up on your leads, and really make those sales and then once you sell, you have to really serve those customers well and get them to come back. And you have to manage your expenses. So keeping those profit margins healthy is crucial right now and much more challenge than it used to be. Yeah,

Jamaal Stafford: 

you know, and I want to sort of focus in today on the the margins because that I think, you know, we like you said we all see the restaurants and you know, we can pretty much figure out the issues there in terms of like lucky when your capacity is limited 25% it’s tough to to make money, you get that but the margins thing is that so you know that is very much sort of the the inner workings of a business and so before we sort of dive deep into it, give us the 30,000 foot perspective for those who may not be as keyed in on you know, margins and what that does for business, you know, and better margins. How does that help the business’s bottom line? You

Andrea Dunathan: 

know, how I think of a profit margin is it’s your cushion So as we now know, if we weren’t aware before unexpected things can happen, right. So the more margin you have, the more cushion, you have to weather the storm. And it just gives you the ability to be more resilient, and it gives you higher profits on a good time. So you know, if you think of your margin, it’s basically when I sell a product or service, I get a certain amount of revenue for that. And I had to spend a certain amount of money to create or provide that product or service. And the difference is my margin. So the bigger that is, the more cushion I have, if I’m selling an hour of my time for a makeup membership, but like $100 an hour, and it costs me $95 an hour to provide that service, I have very little margin there. If my costs go up just a little bit. I’m no longer breakeven. But if I can provide that service for $75 an hour, now I have a 25% profit margin, if my costs go up by $5, it’s okay, I still have plenty of profit left to keep the business running, while I figure out what to do about those increased expenses.

Jamaal Stafford: 

What can business owners and you mentioned a few things, but tell us what business owners can do, especially those business owners in the service sector, which is, you know, or a lot of the businesses that you know, you probably work with, and that I work with, tell us tell them what they can do to improve their margins?

Andrea Dunathan: 

Well, you know, for a service business, it’s really about the cost of the people, right? the productivity of your employees, if you think that people is your investment, you bring on those employees, and they’re providing services to customers, the more productive they can be, the better your margins will be. And the better, they’ll feel, frankly, they’ll be more engaged, they’ll feel more productive, they’ll feel more happy about what they’re doing. So there’s a lot of positives there. So one thing you can do, especially in this stressed out era, where everybody is dealing with the lot, the more you can manage your employees to productivity goals, rather than just, you know, time punch, like clock punching this, you know, it’s not so much did they work exactly eight hours today, it’s did they get the work done that you wanted them to get done? And do they understand what work you want them to get done and what the real goal is, and if you manage to that, they’ll be happier, you’ll be happier. And it gives them a little bit more flexibility to deal with family issues, or whatever else they’re dealing with. So as much as you can do that, it can really, really help and your employees will appreciate it too, because it got us under plenty of pressure right now. And if you can be a little more flexible, and be clear about what the end goal, is there going to be a lot happier.

Jamaal Stafford: 

And how does a business owner go about increasing productivity? Because, you know, it’s like, it’s one thing to say, Hey, you know, employee, here’s what I want you to do. But how do you actually execute on that?

Andrea Dunathan: 

Well, you know, again, be very clear that you’re managing to results, that if they can get the work that you really are hoping they can get done in a shorter time, that’s fine with you. In fact, that’s great, you know, if they need to take that time off in the middle of the day to help their kid, you know, sign into their school class or whatever, that’s okay, as long as they can get their work done. So making that very clear, if you’re in a business that allows for that, and then think about the end goal of the work that you’re giving them, what are you hoping to accomplish by giving them that work? And be very transparent with them about that? And then think about what I call success criteria? How will you know when they’ve reached that goal successfully. And there’s various pieces to that. So there’s the quality of the work, there’s the deadline by which they need to get the work done. There’s all kinds of aspects to it. So talk those through with the employee, have them ask you questions, so you can really define what success looks like. And then manage to that. And, again, that makes it very crystal clear for the employee and for you. Because you’re not, they’re not wondering what they’re being judged on, you’re being clear with them. It’s also giving them a chance to say, you know, pre COVID, that was easy to do. But post COVID, we have this challenge in meeting those success criteria, you might not have been aware of some of that they might be struggling and you might not know. So it’s a really good conversation to have.

Jamaal Stafford: 

Are there any systems that the businesses can use? So obviously, you know, a lot of businesses can, you know, look at their profit and loss and sort of see what the numbers look like, Is there something a business can use to sort of to do those things you talked about in terms of, you know, evaluating, you know, what’s the quality and meet us? Keep track of that? is there is there anything of that nature?

Andrea Dunathan: 

Yeah, there definitely aren’t. So you can go really simple, really fancy. So there’s HR systems that they may be connected to your actual HR system may be a separate product that really look at goal setting and criteria and all that you can go that way and really invest in that. But if you want to keep it simple, you can even use one of the free. The free applications that are available practically anywhere to try productivity. So some of those vary Trello, Asana, Basecamp, to do list, and there’s like countless more someone just told me about one called mavenlink, which manages products and productivity, so it’s a little fancier, all of the systems are useful because it’s a way for you to assign work to your employee and when Once you assign a task, you can put a description, you can put subtasks, you can put deadlines, if the task involves work between more than one person, you can assign subtasks to different people. So they can see, okay, when I finished this, Joe is going to take over and do that, and then it’s going to come back to me. So it’s very transparent about how the workflow is going to go. And you get to see what the status is because they’re going to check off tasks as they go. They can put comments in there, and you can see the comments, maybe they have a question, they can direct it to you about the task. So it makes the workload very clear. And it makes the status very clear. And then when you have regular meetings to talk about, you know, how’s the work going, how’s your progress, you can use the application to communicate about it, to go over it and ask questions. And that really, it’s amazing how productive that can help your employees be and reduce their stress level as well. So they’re not relying on little paper notes that they stuck somewhere and can find, yeah, it’s all right there in the system. And this is a cloud system. So you can log on from anywhere, which is also great.

Jamaal Stafford: 

Yeah, and I think especially now, with so many employees working remotely, that has got to be a huge need. The businesses in the service sector. Tell us in terms of, you know, how difficult is it for a business to implement, like, yeah, those applications you talked about? Is it? Is it very complex? Like, what does it look like?

Andrea Dunathan: 

No, those are actually really simple. I mean, you can get as complex as you want, right? Like I mentioned, that mavenlink one, that’s a full project management system. You know, they’ve got an administrator that runs it, all the people in the company are being assigned and trained on it. But one like Trello, you could set up in like, five minutes, there’s videos telling you how your employee could set it up. It’s, it’s pretty straightforward, very visual, very easy. And then you can get into different levels. You know, Asana, and Basecamp, are maybe a little more complicated, but still quite easy to start using quickly. And then add features as you want. Those are really helpful. Keeping, you know, I think, generally, with the remote workforce, having communication systems is really helpful. So I know a bookkeeping firm, for example, they’re my client, and they use Microsoft Teams. Now some people hate teams, some people love it. But one thing they love about it is they can turn on a chat function when they log in, in the morning. And when they’re like, Hey, did you know do you have that thing that the client sent us? I can’t find it anymore. Instead of picking up the phone dialing Jays number, Sanjay, right, it’s interrupted. Now I can just chat it to you. And you’re online, you just chatted back? Oh, yeah, I have it here. Let me upload it to teams. And now you have access, right? So it’s a much it’s more like me stopping by your desk to say, hey, Jay, do you have a piece of paper instead of this interruptive thing of picking up the phone. So there’s a lot of systems Slack, you know, other things like that, that you can use for communication, which is really helpful. The other thing you want to do, you know, you’re asking about remote workforce, it’s really important to try to keep your employees with you, right, like engaged, we are all sitting you and i right now are probably sitting, I’m sitting in my basement, for goodness sake, you know, and that it’s very isolating. And he used to have team meetings, he used to do fun, you know, team lunches, something like that. Try to find ways to replace that. Because your employees are going through a rough time, just like you are so can you do a zoom happy hour, can you all get together at a local park socially distance with masks, but you know, hang out together bit to some layers and each other or in some way try to keep those connections going? Because it can be very lonely, sitting at home trying to do your job when you’re remote. Exactly. I’m sure you felt that you should have

Jamaal Stafford: 

it. Yeah, absolutely. You know, sitting in the house for weeks on end is not exactly exciting. But with the pandemic, it has really, I think, made a lot of businesses and you know, we’ve talked about, you know, margins, it’s made a lot of businesses to look at how they’re, you know, structured and, you know, what do you think, are some of the lessons that this pandemic May, you know, have taught her should teach businesses for the future?

Andrea Dunathan: 

I guess it would come back to, you know, are you making the most of your operations, your people, your your systems? Again, people, I think we’re kind of casual before they just operated a little from the seat of their pants. This is totally you need to start looking at the data, seeing which of your products or services is most profitable focus on them? Is your marketing really working? Look at the ROI effect, right, like really, not just using your deep knowledge and instincts about your business which are good, but adding in this look at your metrics that your data and if you need help with that you can get help with that, like from your CPA or your bookkeeper or from someone like me, you can get help with stuff like that, to figure out what numbers you should be paying attention to, but you kind of measure that right and understand really where you’re at. And then look at your people. I mean, your people your biggest investment typically, especially as we’re talking about service businesses, are they really, you know, are you putting them to the best use, are they underutilized? Maybe they have strengths that they haven’t used for you before but they do have happen. I have a real estate firm that they had a person who’s handling the real estate transaction paperwork. And she did a great job, she got super efficient at it. So we’re easy to take your full time to do it. Now it’s your half time to do it. And she was a little bit bored and underutilized. I said, Hey, why don’t we train her in financial management? She can manage all the bills. Yeah. And the owner was like, okay, the the woman was actually nervous. She’s like, I don’t know anything about financial management, I said, you’re gonna be fine. You’ve got the skill set to do this, you just don’t know. So we trained her. And now she’s negotiating with vendors and saving thousands of dollars on vendor contracts. Because she’s invested. She’s engaged. She’s She’s challenged, she’s interested, right? She’s doing an old job plus this new job. I mean, that’s such a win win for the owner. And that’s the kind of thing you should look for when you’re tight on money. Like, what do you have already in house that you could really put to great use? Some systems we’ve talked about, right? Those can really increase productivity. I mean, I could go on, right? A lot of things you could do to, to just look at the way I try to look at a business, I come into an operational assessment, right. And I try to look where things are repetitive, where things tedious where people are getting irritated with the way they’re doing their work, try to look at this and see where you can streamline, you could add a system that would really make it a lot easier, you could improve the process, you could train somebody to take on a piece of it, you could outsource a piece of it maybe cheaper, something to make it run more smoothly. Because the smoother it runs, the better your margins are going to be and you know, cycling back to where we started. But are you margins are the more cushion, you have to handle whatever’s coming because we don’t know what’s coming. So this is such a great time to look at your business and try to get it shipshape. We’ll be strong going forward, it cannot hurt you. I mean, at most, it’s going to increase your profit. There’s nothing wrong with that. Yeah. and at worst, it might give you that cushion, you need to survive the next one that comes exactly

Jamaal Stafford: 

in you know, I think, you know, what you’ve talked about has been excellent. And, you know, I know from some of the conversations I’ve had with business owners, they get so overwhelmed to have to think about sort of deconstructing their business, it’s like, you can hear that sort of sigh of like, so all right, yeah. So Tell, tell me, what do you you know, when you have that initial conversation with the business owner, what are some of the things that you, for instance, say, I’m a business owner? What would you tell me like, Hey, here’s like some things you can do to just to not make this feel overwhelming, or things you can look at? Is there some sort of I don’t want to say quick and easy. But there’s some quick and easy things that a business owner can do to to sort of do that sort of analysis, but without sort of feeling overwhelmed?

Andrea Dunathan: 

Well, the first thing is a great question day, by the way, the first thing I say to every business owner is you’re not alone, this is difficult. Don’t feel like you’re overwhelmed, because you should know better, and you don’t and it’s some lacking you, every business owner feels overwhelmed with this stuff. Because it’s not your expertise, your expertise is in your case, law, right, someone else’s being a doctor, whatever, how are you going to know how to run your operations, you’re kind of winging it. So it’s stressful. So take a deep sigh. And take a deep breath. Not if you don’t sigh, breathe. Just realize this is normal. And you can make incremental improvements, and each incremental improvement is going to have a big effect. So you know, it’s continuous improvement, it’s, it’s the marathon, it’s not the quick sprint, right? So just tackle one thing at a time. Don’t try to improve everything at once. You know, I mean, if you want to do like a giant effort to like really not get a lot of stuff, get some help. But if you can do it on your own, which is perfectly reasonable to just pick something that’s low hanging fruit, sit down with your staff and say, where do we get stuck? Where do things get hard? Where did things get mixed up? Where does it feel chaotic, and identify that and then start brainstorming with each other. Right? Your staff are doing the work, they probably have some ideas about this could be improved this way or that way? You’re going to discard some of those ideas is unworkable, too expensive, you know, whatever. And then you’re going to find some other things and ask your peers, right, let’s say you own a law firm. I bet you know a lot of other lawyers, hey, do you use it a platform to manage your practice? Do you have a scheduling software, you’d love to have a virtual assistant firm, that’s just great if we need a couple hours of extra help a week, you know, so use those resources you have. Because there’s often like I said, a very small change can have a big effect. For example, I put a scheduling app on my website. So now when you click schedule consultation, it takes you to a scheduling page. And that schedules an automatic zoom meeting, whatever length of time you want, right and it just scheduled. I don’t have to do anything. I used to be setting up like phoning back and forth, emailing back and forth, setting up the calendar invite going to zoom setting up the zoom meeting rate. It saved me hours per week. And if you think about a busy business owner hours per week, it’s really valuable, right? Yeah, that’s one little thing. It took a couple hours to set up and I save that time in the first week. think that it was up. So even that, you know, don’t think you have to make these massive changes is what I’m saying. I know I’m being long winded but I really I want to stress it doesn’t have to be a big you don’t have to think of this as a big mountain to conquer. It’s just a little tiny molehill one thing at a time.

Jamaal Stafford: 

Yeah, it’s sort of like, like, I like to, you know, analogize it to like, losing weight, right? Like, you’re gonna lose, like 20 pounds in one week. It’s you just got to start. take it step by step, and then go from there. That’s great. Andrea, look, thank you so much. Um, tell our listeners how they can get in touch with you.

Andrea Dunathan: 

Absolutely. So my website is done nothing consulting calm. That’s practically impossible to spell. So hopefully, that’ll be on your podcast site somewhere.

Jamaal Stafford: 

They will spell it out for him. So that

Andrea Dunathan: 

Sure, okay, sure. It’s d u n a THAN consulting.com. And, again, Andrea donathan. You can Google me, there’s not too many people with my name. So you can easily track me down. And you can schedule a consult right on my website. As I said, you can give me a call, email, whatever is convenient. And I would really encourage people. If you feel stuck, give me a call the 10 o’clock free consultation. It doesn’t hurt anything. There’s no commitments about my services. It’s just a free counsel, I might be able to give you some free Do It Yourself advice, and really get you past that first hump and make a big difference. So don’t hesitate to make that call.

Jamaal Stafford: 

That’s awesome. Andrea, thank you so much. We got to we got to have you back on again. Thank

Andrea Dunathan: 

you. Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.

Jamaal Stafford: 

Thank you for listening to today’s podcast. Be sure to subscribe to our podcasts on your favorite podcast platform and be sure to share this podcast with your friends and family. If you have questions, you can always email us at info@staffordtrialteam.comm again.. We look forward to catching up with you next time. Until then, take care